Winter shelter opens in County's Walnut Park complex; learn how to donate life-saving winter gear

November 20, 2018

Inside the Walnut Park shelter on Nov. 19, 2018.

Starting Monday, Nov. 19, a long-unused part of Multnomah County’s Walnut Park Complex in Northeast Portland has opened as a seasonal shelter for dozens of men, women and people in couples who need a safer, warmer place off the streets.

The Walnut Park Shelter, at 5329 NE Martin Luther King Blvd., will provide nighttime accommodations for up to 80 people, with special priority for veterans, people 55 and older, those with disabilities, and people already experiencing unsheltered homelessness in the neighborhood. The shelter will open daily at 5 p.m. and close at 7:30 a.m. It will run through the winter, and close in April.

Transition Projects, which has a long history of providing year-round and seasonal shelter in Multnomah County, will manage and operate the shelter. The County’s Department of County Human Services will continue to provide services in their existing offices in the Walnut Park Complex.

"We all have to do our part," Chair Deborah Kafoury said Monday at a news conference before the shelter opened. "It’s one of three shelters, with a total of 280 beds, that we’ve opened alongside County offices in County buildings since last winter."

Chair Deborah Kafoury speaks at the Walnut Park shelter on Nov. 19, 2018.
Guests must obtain a reservation to stay at the Walnut Park shelter. Once enrolled, they’ll have a bunk of their own for as many days as they need. Participants can also store their belongings at the shelter. That means no one will need to line up outside at night to win a space, or lug around their personal items, as they go about their lives and access services, during the day.

Reservations can be obtained at Transition Projects’ Day Center at the Bud Clark Commons, 650 NW Irving, Portland, or by calling 503-280-4700. To learn more about the shelter, visit www.tprojects.org/shelters. Neighbors and neighborhood organizations can also call with referrals if there's someone they know in the neighborhood who's seeking shelter.

Plan for winter shelter beds

Beds at Walnut Park are among nearly 300 seasonal beds that Multnomah County and Portland will fund this winter. Those winter beds are in addition to the 1,300 publicly funded beds that are open year-round in our community. And they're also separate from the hundreds of beds that open, as needed, only during severe weather. Beyond Walnut Park, seasonal beds will soon be open in the following additional locations:

  • Do Good Multnomah is adding 40 seasonal beds to its 40-bed shelter for veterans in Rose City Park. Of those beds, 30 will be set aside for non-veterans.

  • Portsmouth Union Church (4775 N. Lombard, Portland) is hosting a 50-bed shelter for the winter. The Church has traditionally provided beds during severe weather. The shelter is operating in partnership with Do Good Multnomah.

  • 75 beds of winter shelter for people in families also will open next month.

  • Additional beds will also open in the youth homelessness system.

"Government has an important role, but it’s our partnerships with nonprofit and faith leaders that are bringing people in from the cold," Kafoury said. "They step up to open these new shelters, they expand street outreach to find vulnerable people, and they get them the gear they need to stay safe."

Andy Goebel of Portsmouth Union Church speaks at the Walnut Park shelter on Nov. 19, 2018.
Andy Goebel, pastor of Portsmouth Union Church, said during Monday's news conference that his congregation wasn't sure they could sustain their work providing severe weather beds without more support this year.

After two winters in a row of extended periods of sheltering, we had reached a crossroads," Goebel said. "We knew we couldn’t sustain our winter sheltering efforts without some significant help from outside. So we prayed for that help."

From there, the church started working with Do Good Multnomah and was able to receive financial support from the Joint Office. Instead of providing shelter on the worst nights of the year, the church would be able to help people throughout the fall, winter and early spring.

"I believe that our new partnership with Do Good Multnomah and the Joint Office of Homeless Services is an answer to that prayer," he said.

How and where to help donate or volunteer at a shelter during severe weather in Multnomah County
Severe weather shelter plan is ready

At the same time, Multnomah County and the City of Portland — along with providers such as Transition Projects, JOIN, 211info and others — are ready, as they are every year, to offer those additional beds during severe weather.

For hundreds of neighbors without shelter, even one day or night of severe weather – including high winds, and snow, sleet and ice – is a life-threatening event that requires an emergency response. That’s why, no matter how many days of severe weather we might see, the Joint Office of Homeless Services and emergency management officials in Multnomah County and Portland all share a plan that can scale up rapidly to provide the necessary response.

The plan is centered on a fundamental commitment: No one who needs a warm, dry and safe place during severe weather will ever be turned away.

Outreach providers and first responders work with the Joint Office, emergency management officials and scores of volunteers and community-based organizations stand ready on any given night, depending on the whims of the forecast, to help hundreds of people into shelter with room to spare.

Outreach, volunteering and donations

This year, providers are adding additional outreach capacity during cold weather, but before the thresholds for severe weather are reached. JOIN is adding outreach capacity so workers can specifically help families experiencing homelessness this winter, to help them into housing.

The Joint Office will also begin issuing “cold weather alerts” this year. When temperatures are forecast to reach 32 degrees, providers will step up general outreach efforts, including the ability to purchase and distribute winter gear. During those periods, 211 will operate 24 hours and help connect people to any empty shelter beds.

Community members can help that outreach work, as well as the work to provide shelter during severe weather.

Just like last year, 211info.org/donations will share information on training sessions for severe weather volunteers as well as specific instructions for proactively donating winter gear.

“There’s so much more that you and your neighbors can do. Right now,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said. “Go to 211info.org/donations. You can see lists of the winter gear that our outreach workers rely on to keep people warm — and you can see where and when you can drop it off.  It takes all of us. All year long. But especially when it’s cold outside.”